Okay, we get it: when most people envision a “fishing destination,” they imagine vast expanses of open water, deep blue in color, with a radiant blue sky splayed out above it and scenic views in every direction. They don’t imagine a frozen and frigid lake or something as seemingly unglamorous as drilling a hole in the ice and huddling around it in a one-man shelter.
However, while plenty of anglers are fair weather sportsmen who hang up their rods and reels once the temperature drops below freezing, there are plenty of us out there who are never ready to give the sport up. So in celebration of the all-season anglers out there, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best ice fishing destinations that the United States has to offer. Got any others that we’re missing? Feel free to share your favorite spots in the comments.
Lake Michigan: Yes, it’s a vast lake that could just as easily end up on a list of the best spring, summer, and fall fishing destinations. Yes, opportunities to fish here span multiple different states, with Michigan and Illinois being the most obvious candidates, but Wisconsin and Indiana certainly holding their own. And yes, the best spots to ice fish will vary from winter to winter based on how mild or severe the winters are. But if you can find a spot where the weather is cold and the ice is thick, you will be rewarded with plentiful fish, from trout to salmon and beyond. The only true safe spots, with enough ice to hold weight, are located in the harbors, marinas and bays.
Lake Champlain, Vermont: While it’s hard to argue with the Great Lakes states as the center for ice fishing in the United States, Vermont comes in a strong second, with both Lake Caspian and Lake Champlain ranking among the most popular ice fishing bodies in the country. You can’t go wrong with the former, which is frequently stocked with all manner of trout species, and therefore incredibly likely to net you a keeper or two. With that said, we slightly prefer Lake Champlain, which offers up a grab bag of fish species and hundreds of miles of shoreline. You can set up at a nearly unlimited number of locations on Champlain, and you will never have the same ice fishing experience twice. In fact, it’s so big, that Vermont alone can’t contain it: parts of the lake belong to New York and Quebec.
Higgins Lake, Michigan: Yes, we already brought up the ultimate Michigan lake, but we couldn’t resist throwing this inland gem into our list. Located right in the center of the mitten’s upper half, Higgins Lake is an ice fisherman’s dream, mostly because its surprisingly deep inland waters play host to fish ready to take the bait – even in the coldest weather. Perch are generally found near the shore, with trout congregating closer to the center, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself fishing for other species as well. Regardless of what you find here, beware of the depths: since the water here is deeper, Higgins Lake tends to freeze over more slowly than many other inland lakes in the Midwest. A cold winter can be your license to come here early – around Christmas, perhaps – but in most cases, you will want to wait until the New Year to hit this destination.
Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota: With over 10,000 lakes, Minnesota claims an abundance of ice fishing opportunities, and the cold weather typically brings the season into full swing earlier than other states. Mille Lacs is home to a ton of walleye, rock bass, northern pike, jumbo perch, muskie, small mouth bass and tullibee. The lake spans over 132,000 acres, so finding a spot to set up your shack shouldn’t be too tough. Count on an abundance of resorts, fishing shack rentals and guide services who can show you the way.